Firstly, new studies in South Africa, Scotland and England show that Omicron is causing milder infections than previous variants and is less likely to cause hospitalisation, while the highly contagious nature of the variant is still likely to lead to a surge in cases around the world.
The new research demonstrates that some biological features specific to the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 make it less dangerous than Delta.
As more of the global population has build an immunity because of previous infections and vaccination, experts believe fewer patients will require hospitalisation in the next wave of cases.
The South African study reports a 70% lower chance of hospitalisation from Omicron compared with other variants, while the Scotland study found a two-thirds reduction in hospitalisation risk compared with Delta.
The English study only reported a 15%-20% reduction in hospitalisation and a 40%-45% reduction in the risk of hospitalisation for more than a day.
A word of caution: results are still preliminary and Omicron is still likely to cause a large number of hospitalisations. Two doses plus a booster shot are likely to provide the best protection against infection and severe illness.
In April, during the peak of the Delta surge, just 1.9% of Indians were fully vaccinated and 7.1% partially vaccinated. As of December 23, 41% of Indians are fully vaccinated and another 19% has received at least one dose for a total 60% vaccination coverage.
The second big takeaway is that while largely having the same symptoms as previous variants, Omicron is less likely to cause a loss of taste and smell. Data from Norway found that just 23% of Omicron patients reported a loss of taste and 12% a loss of smell.
Omicron also appears to have a shorter incubation time of as little as three days before an infected person develops symptoms, becomes contagious, and tests positive. The Delta variant when compared takes four to six days.
The last bit of positive news is that officials and experts say South Africa’s Covid-19 wave has already peaked, suggesting that Omicron waves may not be long lasting.
The discovery of Omicron in South Africa last month sent alarm bells ringing around the world. Earlier in December, the country saw a sharp spike in cases and positivity rates.
Despite opting against severe lockdowns and other restrictions, the wave began to subside. This holds promise for other countries experiencing Omicron outbreaks.
Data from South Africa suggests its Omicron wave is about two to three weeks ahead of the US, two weeks ahead of Norway and Denmark, and up to four weeks ahead of the UK.
As India’s response to the Omicron threat, the Prime Minister on Saturday asked the country to remain cautious. He further announced vaccination for children in the age group of 15-18 years that will begin from January 3.
“We must remember that a new variant of COVID-19 Omicron has knocked our doors. To defeat this global pandemic our effort as citizens is important,” he said.
India will begin booster doses for healthcare workers, front-line workers, and those above 60 years of age with co-morbidities from January 10.
(With inputs from TOI)